Hillary Clinton: End Violence in Bahrain

Secretary of state warns Arab nation on democratic transition.

February 19, 2011, 4:18 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb 20, 2011— -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for an end to violence in Bahrain and for the government there to move towards democratic reform.

But she declined to hold Bahrain to the same standard that the Obama administration held Egypt to during the 18 days of protests there.

She warned, speaking generally about the Middle East, that there were dangers in the transition to democracy and that the process could be hijacked.

In an exclusive interview with "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour taped on Friday, Iran loomed large in Clinton's view of democratic transition. She twice used Iran's 1979 revolution as an example of how a people's movement could result in a non-democratic government.

Clinton pressed for an end to all violence in Bahrain, where government forces left more than 50 people injured on Friday alone, according to The Associated Press.

Amanpour asked her if Bahrain was stable.

While declining to characterize the stability of the Persian Gulf state, Clinton told Amanpour, "We've been very clear from the beginning, that we do not want to see any violence. We deplore it. We think it is absolutely unacceptable. We very much want to see the human rights of the people protected including right to assemble, right to express themselves and we want to see reform. And so Bahrain had started on some reform and we want to see them get back to that as quickly as possible."

On Jan. 25, in the midst of protests in Egypt, Clinton said, "our assessment is that the Egyptian Government is stable."

Later, on January 30 in an appearance on "This Week," she did not answer whether Egypt was still stable.

In the interview Friday, Amanpour asked her if the United States will hold Bahrain to the same standard it held Egypt to during 18 days of protests there: The White House strongly condemned violence in Egypt and called for transition from the Mubarak regime "now."

"We try to hold everyone to a similar standard," Clinton replied, "but we cannot dictate the outcomes. We cannot tell countries what they're going to do. We had, you know, no control over what happened in Egypt. We expressed our opinion as we went along and were working with our Egyptian counterparts so that their transition is peaceful, meaningful, transparent, produces results.

"With Bahrain, as they move toward greater reform, which we have consistently encouraged, recommended and urged, we're going to be supporting that and we will speak out where we see them violating human rights and using violence inappropriately," the secretary said.

Clinton had taken a much stronger tone with Egypt after days of protest, calling directly for a "transition" to democratic elections.

Amanpour pressed Clinton on what the consequences might be from the United States if Bahrain continued to violently crack down on protestors.

"You know, Christiane, you know, we have been very clear about what we expect. And we want to see transparency, accountability," Clinton said. "We deplore violence and we expect that the government will take the steps necessary to try to restore confidence, to reach out and continue the path of reform that they were on."

Bahrain, a Shia-majority country ruled by a Sunni monarch, is an island nation in the Persian Gulf. An essential ally for the United States -- in large measure because of its key geographic position near Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran -- Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. One-fifth of the world's oil supply passes through the Persian Gulf.

Amanpour asked the secretary if the new order emerging across the Middle East is good for America.

"I think in general Americans are in favor of human rights, freedom, democracy," she said. "We know that ultimately the most progress that can be made on behalf of human beings anywhere is when those individuals are empowered, when they have governments that are responsive. That's what we want to see.

"At the same time, we recognize that this process can be hijacked. It can be hijacked by both outside and inside elements within any country," Clinton said. "I mean, what a tragedy to see what happened in Iran. There was a great deal of hope and pent-up feeling that the time had come in 1979 and look at what Iran is doing today."

Amanpour asked, "Do you think that will happen in Egypt?"

Clinton refused to make a prediction, but said, "There are many ways that these transitions can go right and there are many ways they can go wrong."

"And the United States wants to stand with those who are seeking democratic reform ... who want to build democratic institutions that are going to reflect real results for people," she said in the interview, which took place at the Asia Society in New York City.

"You want democracy. You speak about democracy. Can you control democracy? Should you control democracy? Or do you have to take the chips and let them fall where they may if you want democracy?" Amanpour asked.

"Democracy is not one election that then whoever wins it decides never to have another one," the secretary said. "Democracy requires the building of institutions like independent judiciaries, the free press, the protection of minorities. And I think there has been somewhat of a misconception in the last several years about OK, what do we do to get a democracy while we hold an election and then we can be as dictatorial, authoritarian, oppressive as possible. That is not what anyone wants."

"In the Middle East, America's strategic interests have been with some of these autocratic rulers," Amanpour said. "They've helped you with Israel and peace in the region. They've helped you against terrorism. Is there a change in dynamic ... do you believe that a democratic people could be a force for much more stability, longer term stability?"

"Ultimately," Clinton said, "a really truly functioning comprehensive democracy has historically been proven to be a greater force for stability. Navigating through what are difficult choices for societies that are doing that transition is something that the United States encourages as we did after the fall of the Berlin Wall and will continue to encourage."

Amanpour asked if the United States will be encouraging democracy in the same way today, and Clinton again mentioned the Iran's revolution.

"Well, we have been but at the same time, we are also knowledgeable enough about historical experiences to know that this is not an easy journey for any people to make. There are many threats and problems along the way," she said.

"Iran is an example that people often raise. Now, you cannot take one historical, cultural, political experience and superimpose it on another. There are always differences. But we would not be doing our jobs if we didn't look to see what are the common themes," she said. "How did countries in the former Soviet Union make it through to democracy and look at all those unfortunately that failed, they have autocratic regimes and they are only democratic in name only."

But emphasizing the successful transitions in Latin America from authoritarian rule to vibrant democracies, she said, "We have a lot of experience in talking about and supporting the right path and that's what we will do."

The secretary said that foreign aid and assistance was an essential component of the foreign policy strategy of the United States.

"I will continue to make the case that in today's world, we have to have a three-pronged strategy: defense, diplomacy, development," she said.

Clinton used the example of Iraq to make the case for the importance of the significant budgets of the State Department and USAID.

"In Iraq our military is drawing down. We will save $45 billion when our troops leave at the end of this year from Iraq. And everyone, I think, in the country celebrates that they are going to be leaving and they have done an amazing job under the most difficult circumstances," she said.

"However, we in state and USAID need $4 billion to continue the work we're doing with the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government that we agreed to do in the Bush administration," she said.

And then the secretary mentioned Iran for the third time in the interview.

"Too many people on Capitol Hill and throughout the country say, 'OK so the military's gone, we don't need to spend any money,' which would be a terrible mistake and unfortunately, I think, would make Iraq even more vulnerable to outside interference from Iran," she said.

Clinton called Israeli settlements "illegitimate" shortly before the United States vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning continued Israeli settlement expansion as illegal on Friday.

"I think it is absolutely clear to say, number one, that it's been American policy for many years that settlements were illegitimate and it is the continuing goal and highest priority of the Obama administration to keep working toward a two-state solution with both Israelis and Palestinians," She told Amanpour.

The U.N. resolution failed as a result of the United States' veto. The Security Council vote was 14 countries in favor of the resolution and one country, the United States, opposed. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the resolution risked harming the peace process.

"It is the Israelis' and Palestinians' conflict, and even the best-intentioned outsiders cannot resolve it for them," Rice said after the vote at U.N. headquarters in New York City. "Therefore, every potential action must be measured against one overriding standard: Will it move the parties closer to negotiations and an agreement?

"Unfortunately, this draft resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides," Rice added. "It could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations and, if and when they did resume, to return to the Security Council whenever they reach an impasse."

Since she began serving as secretary of state in early 2009, Clinton has taken a similarly harsh line against continued Israeli settlements.

In March 2010, the secretary said it was "long-standing American policy that does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlements" to the annual American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Conference.

In December 2010, in a speech at the Brookings Institution, she said, "We do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity."

"We believe their continued expansion is corrosive not only to peace efforts and two-state solution, but to Israel's future itself," Clinton added.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events